We are resilient AF. We will set up for morning ballet barre at our kitchen counter, choreograph full out combinations in our bedroom, and teach to a Brady Bunch-like computer screen of tiny Zoom boxes. Nothing—we repeat, nothing—will keep us from dancing.
In early March 2020, Lizz Picini was teaching weekly sold-out theater classes at Broadway Dance Center and set to go out on a first national tour in just a few months. The pandemic brought both of these exciting opportunities to a dramatic halt. But instead of letting these ‘letdowns’ break her, Lizz stayed true to herself by navigating the pandemic as an educator and performer and as a human being. Not only did her persistence and flexibility keep her dancing, but it also illuminated strengths, insights, and goals that she didn’t even know she had.
RN: Tell us about March 2020, right about when the city shut down for what we thought was only a few weeks. Was it difficult to make sense of your life during that time of confusion and fear?
LP: To be fully transparent, getting sick [with COVID] so early was an interesting distraction from what was going on in the business. Broadway shut down on Thursday 3/12, I taught my last class at Broadway Dance Center on 3/13, the studio shut down two days later, and on that Monday evening, I started to feel really achy. The next morning I woke up with a 104 degree fever. I was down for the count pretty much for the rest of the month.
After a while, I got word that my tour would not be happening – and that if and when it did eventually go out on the road, it would not be a union tour (therefore counting me out). That was a hard pill to swallow, and it was difficult to take that off my resume. I realized I was still so reliant on the words on that little piece of paper. But my jobs don’t define me—and it being taken away was completely out of my control. There was a lot of growth and discovery in that, along with—of course—recognizing that people lost a lot more than jobs during this pandemic.
RN: When did you begin teaching virtually?
LP: In early April I was asked to teach an Instagram Live class for LaDuca Shoes. It was my first real activity since having COVID and, though the adrenaline got me through class, I was exhausted afterwards. A few teachers – including myself – started teaching virtually from Broadway Dance Center soon after.
RN: What were the initial challenges of teaching virtually?
There are the obvious challenges of teaching on Zoom – the music delay being the most difficult to deal with, at first. There’s a technological disconnect but you—as a teacher—Ihave to be connected to everyone in that class. I was so grateful to be able to be back teaching class and I also felt a huge responsibility. Often, it was a challenge to pull up, perform, and teach to a computer screen. My joy was authentic, but the energy it took to show up and inspire my classes was tremendous.
At a time that was still so vulnerable for me and for everyone, I was being a cheerleader for people but feeling like I was getting nothing back (no cheers, no applause, no thank-yous, etc).The feedback was there, it was just different. I thought, How can I reframe this? So, I decided to focus on every individual rectangle of beaming faces, to pay attention to the class chat, the comments after class.
When you are teaching virtually, you are on on on. It requires so much adrenaline and effort to impart your energy through a screen. And then, you’re just done…the camera cuts off and you’re left alone in your living room staring at your laptop. The high drops so suddenly and you’re back in the reality of Oh my goodness…We’re still in this. Teaching virtually makes me feel refueled but also exhausted. I have learned to implement boundaries to keep myself healthy—Paying attention to how much I give and how much I save for myself.
RN: What have you found to be the advantages?
I have always been someone who has struggled with boundaries—Protecting my time and space. While I’m always happy to connect with people before and after class, it honestly takes a lot out of me. I have learned that mentorship is another job. And I can be better at both of these things if I practice healthy boundaries.
Another advantage is, of course, making connections with people despite distance. In contrast to a studio full of dancers, on a Zoom screen, I can really see each individual—and their name tags! I recognize those students who keep showing up, those who have really grown week after week, and those who I may want to work with one day in the future.
Ultimately, I’ve learned to breathe and to roll with the punches. There’s so much we can’t control, and acknowledging that makes those changes and challenges a little easier to navigate. I’m seeing that mindset shift bleed into other aspects of my career…The not being on Broadway yet, the losing the national tour, the showing up at auditions where I am cut and my students move on. It’s still not easy, but I’m getting better and just breathing and letting things go.
RN: As a performer, how have you accepted the current circumstances to keep training and auditioning?
LP: I love being able to take class for myself in a safe environment. When I’m dancing from home and I’m in a tiny Zoom square like everyone else, I allow the pressure to fall off. I’ve learned to not let the energy of other people cause you to overthink. Even now when I’m taking class in the studio, I still try to have the “Zoom mentality,” Of course, be kind and cheer people on, but really focus on yourself (in a positive and protective way). I try to remember that I’m taking class for me. Pre-pandemic, I didn’t realize I was wearing different hats for others but never for myself…I now own what hat I have on for myself at any given moment.
RN: How else have you kept busy during this past year and a half?
I’ve come to see how much I am a mentor and an inspiration to others. I have allowed myself to press into that—and I love it. But I’ve also realized how much I need that mentorship, too. I need to lean on people and that’s okay.
I have been intentional about doing self-care for me. I have fallen in love with fitness (not teaching or coaching, just doing it)—In making it all about me, it’s my time to take care of myself. I have also implemented at least one full rest day per week. It’s really difficult for me to actually disconnect and take pause, but I’ve noticed such a difference. I got a piano, I’ve been reading a lot and taking walks. And I’m hoping to get a dog soon!
My faith has also grown tremendously over the past two years. To be honest, it used to be easy to just coast with my faith. Now it is something I pull from because it is so much bigger than myself.
RN: How else have you cared for yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally?
LP: Therapy. I don’t know where I would be without that being a constant. It’s great that there is not such a taboo around it anymore. Because it really is about learning and education. I’ve also been diving into anti-racism work—taking courses and finally facing that (and myself) head on.
RN: What have you learned about yourself over the past year and a half?
LP: I have learned to be gracious with myself the way I am to others—To give myself grace and space to be a human. I now celebrate myself…My 10 years in NYC putting in really good, hard work. I have a [LaDuca] shoe named after me—I laugh and I pinch myself! It’s so cool to say that the hard work is paying off—It truly does and, in the coolest way, gets easier. The person you are shows up and that pays off with time. I’m grateful to see that people know my name—my brand—as someone who really shows up and delivers. I’ve earned the right to be called upon because of the work I’ve done. I truly believe that will happen for everyone who puts in the work. But we need to normalize hard work and the time that it takes to get there.
To sign up for Lizz’s classes, visit www.broadwaydancecenter.com.
Follow her on Instagram @lizzpicini.
Photo: Sadiya Ramos by Rachel Neville